Football fans were disappointed when they learnt that Brazilian prodigy Vinicius Junior won't be a part of the squad in India for the U-17 World Cup. The absence of the spearhead of one of football's most hallowed and entertaining nations was set to take considerable shine off the tournament. But in turn, it allowed the focus to shift on the young Seleção themselves. Instead of one wonderkid, fans were offered a chance to appreciate 11.
Brazil have been in control in the World Cup so far, and expectedly so. While they have always stopped short of being rampant, but have been efficient and sublime against their opponents nevertheless.
When they took on Niger in Goa Friday night, the atmosphere was to their liking as well. Goa is a hub of Brazil fans as the Portuguese connection runs deep. And it showed, as Brazil did the job and dispatched Niger without being stretched. A simple 2-0 win that put them on top of Group D.
Brazil took matters in hand early on. Paulhinho, who has been Brazil's talisman up front in the competition, was released on through in the fourth minute by a ball from the right. He ran down the right flank and put in a simple cross for Lincoln Santos to tap in and complete the move. Brazil were 1-0 up without breaking a sweat. Just five minutes later, Lincoln could have doubled the lead and his tally for the night when he rose to meet a cross from the right again, but this time clipped the crossbar. Meanwhile, Niger, who had won and lost a game each till then, were resorting to hopeful long balls and shots from distance, desperate to get a result by any means.
To their credit, they did tighten up and defended well after they went down. Brazil's chances were being shut down before they opened up and soon they were seen taking long shots of their own. Wesley exchanged quick passes with Marcos Antonio near the touch line, cut in and curled in a shot from distance, with Khaled Lawali having to be at full stretch to keep it out.
Niger would have felt hard done by when they conceded another in the 35th minute, especially since it was a deflected freekick from Brenner Silva. Niger had a chance to pull one back minutes later when the ball fell on Kairou Amoustapha's feet right in front of the Brazilian goalpost. The Niger forward stretched but failed to connect. At half-time, though Niger had failed to get a shot on target, they weren't deserving of a 2-0 scoreline. They had done well to keep Brazilian attack at bay after conceding the first goal.
The trio of Paulinho, Lincoln and Brenner, who had exhibited beautiful link-up play in the first two games, seemed a tad rusty on the night. The Niger defence was partly responsible for that.
Lincoln missed another great chance to extend Brazil's lead in the 59th minute. He did exceptionally well to control a pinpoint long ball in the box from Vitao, but his lashed shot from close range was way too high. Minutes later, Brazilian custodian Gabriel Brazao had to dive to parry away Yacine Massamba's brave effort from a distance. Niger hadn't given up yet and, lacking space and probably intent to do anything inventive, they kept sending up long balls, but to no effect. Brazao was alert enough to collect crosses coming in from the flanks or tip them away to safety. Brazil made a few attempts of their own but none so incisive as to bring them a third goal on the night.
Already topping the group, they seemed to have gone down a gear. By the time the final whistle was blown, the game had become a mutual acceptance of order. Niger knew there was no way back and considering the tilt of the other group game between Spain and North Korea, they would be qualifying for knockout rounds regardless of the loss. Brazil too didn't have any reason to stretch themselves further. The shared understanding of the non-zero sum game dulled the contest down towards its end.
Brazil will play the third-placed team from Group E in the Round of 16, which is likely to be Honduras. And though they were tested by Spain, a contender themselves, it seems they are yet to hit top gear. They have been thoroughly impressive in their execution, but one gets the feeling that their big game, where they will truly shine, is yet to come. One of the tournament favourites, Brazil, however, would be wise to not let complacency set in. Spain played their naturally attacking game and made Brazil work hard for a win. Teams that are fast up front and don't shy away from a head-on-fight can catch them off guard. There aren't many ways to beat Brazil at their own game, except maybe by playing it just like they do.
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Updated Date: Oct 14, 2017 21:48:21 IST